The Struggle for a Positive Peace

By Nandita Chaturvedi.

Photo credit: Bob Fitch Photography Archive, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

We live in times more precarious and dangerous than the era of the Cold War. Western imperialism continues to wreak havoc unchecked in the world we inhabit. There no longer exists a Soviet Union, which in the past had acted as a bulwark against imperialism. The world also lacks a principled organization of formerly colonized nations, united for the cause of peaceful development, as was seen in the Non-Aligned Movement. It is in this time, when we lack a principled force that opposes imperialism, that the fight for peace takes center stage. The choice before us is no longer just war and peace, but nuclear war and annihilation of the human race, or peace and survival. It is therefore our moral duty to build an anti war and peace movement.

In doing so, we cannot ignore the economic and social system that has brought us to this historical moment. Moments of crisis like the present call for a deep reflection on the path we have taken so far and the ideas we uphold. The fight for peace would be a sham if it is divorced from the fight for humanity itself. Humanity then compels us to fight for what Martin Luther King called a positive peace, peace that is not just the absence of tension as millions die of hunger and disease but the presence of justice. We must not be afraid to ask the broad questions that face us at this time; what does a just society look like, and can our current system take us to such a world?

Imagining the Presence of Justice

We define positive peace as the conditions under which the full development of the human being can be achieved. The absence of war is a precondition for this, but is not sufficient to build a just world when divorced from the fight for humanity. The great fighter for world peace, W.E.B. Du Bois, was driven by a vision for a peaceful world. He paints a picture for a world with positive peace in his Credo to Darkwater.

“I believe in God, who made of one blood all nations that on earth do dwell. I believe that all men, black, brown and white, are brothers, varying through time and opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but alike in soul and the possibility of infinite development.

I believe in Liberty for all men: the space to stretch their arms and their souls, the right to breathe and to vote, the freedom to choose their friends, enjoy the sunshine, and ride on the railroads, uncursed by colour; thinking, dreaming, working as they will in a kingdom of beauty  and love.

I believe in the training of children, black even as white; the leading out of little souls into the green pastures and beside the still waters, not for pelf or peace, but for life lit by some large vision of beauty and goodness and truth..

In times of pessimism like today, there are many who may dismiss Du Bois’ vision as being idealistic and impractical. However, history shows us that true change has always come, not from incremental steps that tweak a corrupt system, but from bold imagination and strong commitment. As Du Bois said, “pessimism is cowardice.” Our society today is one of decadence and decay. Its future remains uncertain, and the ruling class tries to keep us from having the courage to imagine a different future. Propaganda from the corporate media inundates the youth, promoting individualism, isolation, pessimism and hopelessness. It is imperative then that we follow the example of Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King Jr. and W.E.B. Du Bois, and rise above pessimism, to fight for humanity. The first step to this is having the courage to imagine a different world, and taking responsibility to build it.

Thus, we follow Du Bois in building a broad vision for peace. No such vision is possible if we do not address the future of what Du Bois calls the “Immortal Child”, the children of today, tomorrow and the future. We are striving for a world where the immortal child can realize his infinite potential, unfettered by race and poverty. In its treatment of the immortal child, society determines its own future, like ours has done.

Du Bois asserts in his novel the Dark Princess that humanity itself is royal. Many artists, philosophers, writers and scientists remain submerged in poverty, unable to achieve their human potential. Positive peace is the precondition for them to develop, and contribute to the forward movement of humanity. Until this vast reservoir of human talent and capability is released from its dumbing chains, and allowed to speak, humanity will remain stagnant, unable to move forward to freedom and progress.

Finally, if our definition of peace is based on the development of the human, of the Immortal Child, we must reject the narrow definition of peace that speaks of the abolition of nuclear weapons within the continuation of the current capitalist economic system. The system that has brought us to the current existential moment keeps the majority of humanity in poverty for the profits of a few. Much of the world suffers under neocolonial control, unable to determine its own path. To ensure peace for all humanity, including the darker nations, we need to imagine a new economic system that puts humanity at the center of its concerns. Humanity must move beyond the crisis of the current moment, and onward to self determination and socialism.

Further, we must challenge those that look upon the fight for peace as cowardice and meek surrender. The fight for a positive peace is one and the same as fighting for self determination and people’s dignity. Without peace, no nation can be free to determine its own society. It takes great strength and courage to stand up to the world system that relies fundamentally upon war to secure profits.

Peacemakers must commit to struggle

The fight for peace then, cannot be waged passively, we must embrace struggle as a part of it. To fight for a positive peace, we must put the struggle against militarism together with the struggle against what King called racism and economic exploitation.

The struggle against war is tied inextricably to the struggle against imperialism. The world has been ravaged by imperialist wars, which undermine governments that oppose finance capital. Any government that has attempted to oppose the neoliberal world order, and move toward an economic system different from that which is dictated to the world by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, has been attacked by American imperialism. This is a continuation of the West’s long history of counterrevolutionary interventions. We see this in Afghanistan, where a socialist project was stunted by the American military and the nation ravaged with war. We see this is Libya, where Gaddafi was humiliated and assassinated by the United States after he embraced pan Africanism, talked of a gold backed currency independent of the dollar, and nationalised Libyan oil. The same was attempted in Syria, where an elected government has been deemed a regime for talking of sovereign control of oil resources. Fighting for positive peace means opposing imperial intervention, and defending the right of all people to determine their own society. All people have the right to struggle to establish a society centered on human development without the threat of war, as opposed to finance capital’s insatiable need for profit.

This means that those who fight for peace must commit to struggle against imperialism, and for this reason, will be attacked by the ruling class viciously. Historically, those who fight for peace have been at the vanguard of progressive struggle. They have been maligned, and repressed by the forces of the American state and world capital. Paul Robeson was denied his living as an artist, his passport confiscated, as he called for an end to racism and war. W.E.B. Du Bois was declared by the American government as ‘an agent of a foreign government’ to which he responded that he was not an agent of any government, but an agent of peace. Further, it was his opposition to the war in Vietnam that caused Martin Luther King Jr. to lose support from white liberals, and eventually be assassinated.

Left and progressive forces must be at the forefront of the fight for peace. The left is failing in its primary role as a fighter for humanity today. It continues to rally behind the Democratic party fueled Anti-Trump movement, unable to imagine a path for itself. We must uphold the legacy that W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King and Paul Robeson have handed down to us. This means having courage to build a movement for the interest of broad humanity, and not the selfish interests of the Democratic Party, or narrow gains for the western working class. We must concern ourselves with opposing imperialism, and in this time, supporting imperial retreat. The first step to this is to have clarity on ideas, which would enable us to see through ruling class propaganda. To build a peace movement, we must be educated on the history that has brought us here. We must study the work of peacemakers before us, understand the role of organizations like the World Peace Council, and eventually to organize ourselves on their example.

Nonviolence and Civilization

In each epoch, the people who have fought for peace have taken humanity forward. Examples of this go as far back in time as Mohammed and Buddha, and as recent as Martin Luther King and Gandhi. The ideas attached with these figures have prompted a reorganization of society and a rethinking of its aims.The principle of nonviolence, and the striving for positive peace is intimately tied to the progress of human civilization. In our time, as Martin Luther King Jr. said,

The greatest need of civilization today is not political security; the greatest need of civilization today is not a well rounded United Nations Organization; the greatest need of civilization today is not a multiplicity of material goods; the greatest need of civilization today is not the superb genius of science as important as it is; the greatest need of civilization today is moral progress. On the whole our material and intellectual advances have outrun our moral progress. ”

It is time that the youth took responsibility for their future, built a moral movement for peace, and take humanity forward. When they do, they will be part of a movement for peace that is as old as humanity itself.

Photographer: Addison N. Scurlock. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives Center.

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